Participate, Designing with User-Generated Content by Helen Armstrong and Zvezdana Stojmirovic (on amazon USA and UK.)

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Publisher Princeton Architectural Press says: Creativity is no longer the sole territory of the designer. User-driven design has never been easier for the public to generate and distribute. Users of websites such as Flickr, Threadless, WordPress, YouTube, Etsy, and Lulu approach design with the expectation that they will be able to fill in the content. How will such a fundamental shift toward bottom-up creation affect the design industry? Participate considers historical and contemporary models of creation that provide ideas for harnessing user-generated content through participatory design. The authors discuss how designers can lead the new breed of widely distributed amateur creatives rather than be overrun by them.

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Daniel Eatock, No Smoking Sign Library, ongoing

Nowadays, many of the tools of production and distribution used by graphic designers are available to the broader public. And not only are members of the public turning into amateur designers, they are also invited by professionals to contribute to their creative process. The book addresses the curiosity of the amateur of course but it also talks to professional designers (or artists) who fear that they might be trampled underfoot by distributed amateur creatives.

Participate is a introductory book for anyone who is interested in the impact that networked co-creativity has on design, graphic design but also on other fields such as typography, silk-screening, craft, fashion, advertising, etc.

Each chapter analyzes one of the key components of participatory design: community (or what drives people to participate in the absence of a financial compensation), modularity (the groups of units that makes up a larger system), flexibility (making branding more elastic) and technology (or why code is 'the new literacy.')

Chapters are colour-coded: the white pages are for theory and examples of successful participatory design. The yellow pages contain the interviews with designers, programmers, communication 'strategists' and curators. And because the authors of the books are designers but also educators, the blue pages are for exercises that invite readers to experiment with the concepts, projects and the ideas presented in the book.

The theory sections are written with clarity, they do a good job at explaining basics such as how the Open Source ad the Copyleft movements have paved the way for new mindsets, how technology has pushed users to adopt a more active role, what generative design is, etc.

A few projects presented in the book:

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Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, Outrace, 2010

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Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, Outrace, 2010

For the London Design Festival, Kram/Weisshaar and Reed Kram installed eight industrial robots on Trafalgar Square and let the public take control of them to write personal light messages which were recorded and shared as video files.

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Keetra Dean Dixon, Willing Wonder, 2007

Keetra Dean Dixon created a photo booth-like space in which people activate a hidden camera each time they lift a bubble wand and blow a bubble.

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Stefan Bucher, the Daily Monster, 2006

For 100 days, Stefan Bucher filmed himself drawings monsters and posted the short clips on his website. He then asked readers to write the story of the monster. His "open Source Monsters" also allows people to submit their own drawings based on the inkblots he provides. The online project lead to a book which had already gathered a public long before it hit the bookshops.

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Graphic Thought Facility, MEBOX, 2002

MEBOX is a customizable storage system. Each box has a grid of perforated discs that can be pressed out to create characters. When assembled, the double-thickness construction presents the message against the contrasting colour of the box lining.

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Posttypography, The Splice Today logo, 2008 - 2009

Check out the website of the book, it presents dozens of projects that have not been included in the volume.

Photo on the homepage: Joe Galbreath, Paper Robot Army. Credit image: Kristian Bjornard.
Related: Le Cadavre Exquis.

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Utopia Forever - Visions of Architecture and Urbanism. An inspirational exploration of utopias and radical approaches to city planning. Edited by Robert Klanten and Lukas Feireiss (available on amazon USAand UK.)

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Publisher Gestalten writes: Whether created by established architects and artists or new talents, the examples in Utopia Forever are important catalysts for fundamental change and are radically shaping our notions of life in the future. The current projects and concepts from architecture, city planning, urbanism, and art collected here point beyond the restrictions of the factual to unleash the potential of creative visions. This inspiring work explores how current challenges for architecture, mobility, and energy as well as the logistics of food consumption and waste removal can be met. Text features by both architects and theorists give added insight.

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Amid (cero9) + Colectivo Cuartoymitad's proposal The Big Mech Co

Everything in this book is orderly and rational. Clean and clear design. Project neatly presented: title, name of the architects, envisioned location and envisioned completion date. Followed by a brief summary of the context for the project and a few paragraphs that describe its principles and the way it works.

Five themes govern the selection of projects. Great Scapes examines proposals of living in inhospitable spaces: deserts, caves, online, up in the sky, etc. As its name suggests the chapter Rising Tides is all about projects that responds to rising sea levels. Ecotopia Emerging presents projects that have distinctly (and at times, extreme) eco-conscious ideals. Technology Matters highlights the impact of innovation on the way architects envision utopia. The last section, Sky's the Limit engages with vertical architecture.

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Studio Lindfors, Aqualta

The dozens of projects presented in the volume are accompanied by six essays that vary from the pragmatic to the humorous: Dan Wood and Amale Andraos walk us briskly through architectural utopia of the 1960s and 70s while Geoff Manaugh offers a tongue-in-cheek but also remarkably spot-on game that would help you build every possible scenario of utopian architecture.

Everything in this book is orderly and rational. Everything but the subject of the monograph of course. But no matter how 'conceptual' and outlandish the works presented in the book might appear, they come with irony, lucidity and a desire to focus on society/the planet's most pressing needs and as such, they provide valuable food for thought.

Some are mere exercises in speculations while others almost have their feet on the ground. Some are strangely seducing, others will give you nightmares.

Of course you will find in this book what any respectable book about utopian architecture should offer: pods of all sorts, vertical farms a gogo, mobile living spaces, cities built in the air, on the water, in the water and of course flooded cities. But there were also a few scenarios i had never heard about:

David A. Garcia has a couple of exciting projects in the book. My favourite is the Quarantined Library located on a cargo ship. Its mission is to collect infected and radioactive books, a robotic arms that engraves secrets on wooden panels infected by termites, and historically censored books. I couldn't find illustrations online but i did find some for the South Pole living station for 100 visitors with minimum environmental impact. The space would be holed out in a super large iceberg which would eventually melt in 7 to 10 years time.

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David A.Garcia, Sustainable Iceberg Living Station

Mila Studio proposes to build a 1,000m tall faux mountain at the site of the masterpieces that is the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin instead of hotels and sky-high offices. The Berg would be the world's largest man-made mountain, covered with snow from September to March and would serve as a tourist attraction for skiers in the otherwise slope-less city.

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Mila Studio, The Berg

London-based NaJa and deOstos office develops speculative, alternative urban concepts. One of the most attention-grabbing is the Hanging Cemetery of Baghdad which explore a possible response to extreme cultural and political challenges such as the crisis in the Middle East. Initiated in 2004, the project envisions "a gigantic presence of a hanging funereal structure [that] extends over the volatile city of Baghdad."

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NaJa and deOstos, Hanging Cemetery of Baghdad

Nicolas Mouret's Phyte is a 380m high tower that would move in natural flow and offer a stark contrast to the city's static skyline. The mechanical energy of the rocking tower would generate enough electricity to supply the building's lighting.

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Nicolas Mouret, PHYTE

Stéphane Malka's Self Defense hijacks The Grande Arche De La Défense in Paris and turn it into the 'Great arch of fraternity' at the service of the forsaken, the marginalized, refugees, demonstrators, dissenters, hippies, utopians, and the stateless of all kinds.

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Stéphane Malka, Auto-Défense

Where the Grass is Greener by Tomorrow's Thoughts Today envisions a group of Londoners who have chosen to segregate themselves from the rest of society, and has taken up the mantle of sustainability in an extraordinary way. Driven by a set of ethics that places them in sometimes radical opposition to the rest of London, they have adopted a lifestyle that effectively makes them a carbon sink for the remainder of the city.

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Tomorrow's Thoughts Today, Where the Grass is Greener (Hallucinogenic garden)

Saturation City explores the future of Australian urban space in 40 years time. The proposal manufactured a crisis - a rise in sea level of 20m, tested around Melbourne and Port Philip Bay - that would require dramatic urban upheaval. The park/garden, the business district, the suburb and the coastline, are subjected to dramatic densifications in response to the 'flood'.

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Bild, Dyskors, MGS and Material Thinking, Saturation City

Views inside the book:

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Image on the homepage: NL Architects, Cruise City, City Cruise, 2003.

The Toaster Project: Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch by Thomas Thwaites (available on amazon USA and UK.)

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Publisher Princeton Architectural Press says: "Hello, my name is Thomas Thwaites, and I have made a toaster." So begins The Toaster Project, the author's nine-month-long journey from his local appliance store to remote mines in the UK to his mother's backyard, where he creates a crude foundry. Along the way, he learns that an ordinary toaster is made up of 404 separate parts, that the best way to smelt metal at home is by using a method found in a fifteenth-century treatise, and that plastic is almost impossible to make from scratch. In the end, Thwaites's homemade toaster-- a haunting and strangely beautiful object--cost 250 times more than the toaster he bought at the store and involved close to two thousand miles of travel to some of Britain's remotest locations. The Toaster Project may seem foolish, even insane. Yet, Thwaites's quixotic tale, told with self-deprecating wit, helps us reflect on the costs and perils of our cheap consumer culture, and in so doing reveals much about the organization of the modern world.

A few months ago, i was in Pittsburgh with 3 other authors writing an art&science book in seven days. Luke and Jessica, the designers of the book, were sitting across the table reviewing almost almost in real time the notes and images we were sending them. At some point we all raised our head because the designers had started laughing uncontrollably while saying "brilliant! this is brilliant!" This was the Toaster effect! Thomas Thwaites's project is mocked almost as much as it is admired. The designer has toured the world to show and discuss what is probably the most uncomely toaster that ever was created. It generated so much press, so many questions and such interest that i even suspect that Thwaites wrote the book as a catharsis, a way to get the toaster out of his life. He won't have to tell the story again, it's all there for us to read.

As befits the project, the book is hilarious. I never though reading about iron smelting and descents into mines would be so engrossing. You follow Thomas Thwaites' email correspondence and phone conversations with (mostly baffled) experts, miners and other "jolly nice chaps". Next, he is smelting iron in his mum's microwave, trekking in the highlands of Scotland in search of a mica mine, trying to convince BP to take him on a helicopter ride so that he can collect on an oil rig the crude oil he needs to make the plastic case for his toaster, attempting to cook some plastic using potato starch, 'stealing' water from the Marquis of Anglesey, etc.

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Suitcase of iron ore

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Iron smelting with leaf blower

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Iron smelting in microwave

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Mica harvesting in Scotland

With his über-english self-deprecating tone, Thomas takes you from one failure to another. Yet, this accumulation of fiascoes and disappointments, which at times reads like a hybrid between the story of the dodekathlon and the script of a Woody Allen comedy, turned into an extraordinary achievement. Thwaites went through experiences none of us would ever dare to undergo just to fabricate an object that would perform the mundane function of toasting a piece of bread.

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And if you prefer taking a shortcut:

32nasa0.jpgYou might remember that over 8 months ago i spent 7 days in Pittsburgh for a A/S/T Book Sprint. Together with curator Andrea Grover, art and science writer and pop star Claire L. Evans and architect and designer Pablo Garcia, i spent a whole week locked inside the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University discussing and writing about the intersection of art/science/technology with explorations into maker culture, hacking, artist research, distributed creativity, and technological and speculative design.

Andrea also had the bright idea to involve graphic designers Jessica Young, and Luke Bulman from Thumb in the whole production process. Each evening we would gather around their computer screens and watch how these two talented designers had given shape to our ideas and texts.

The book is finally out! It's called New Art/Science Affinities and you can either buy it on Lulu or download the PDF for free.

Don't expect to read the ultimate compendium of all things art and science (it was written in only 7 days by 4 people after all), it would be more appropriate to see it as a subjective snapshot of what the art&science community is up to right now (or rather 8 months ago). What i can say with certainty is that the book is the result of one of the most exciting moments of my blogger life. So thank you Andrea for inviting us to book sprint, to Golan Levin for hosting us at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, to Astria Suparak from the Miller Gallery for her continuous support. And a huge thank you to all the artists we've contacted at the very last moment with an urgent request to send us photos or to talk with us on skype.

Views inside the book:

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Image Studio for Creative Inquiry

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Jessica and Andrea. Image Studio for Creative Inquiry

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Claire Image Studio for Creative Inquiry

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Pablo and I. Image Studio for Creative Inquiry

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At the Waffle Shop

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The very last day in Pittsburgh was a real snow party

Krzysztof Wodiczko, contributors: Rosalyn Deutsche, Lisa Saltzman, Andrzej Turowski, Dick Hebdige, Denis Hollier, Ewa Lajer-Burcharth and Dora Apel (available on amazon USAand UK.)

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Publisher Black Dog says: Krzysztof Wodiczko is the first complete collection of the politically charged installations and projects of internationally renowned artist, Krzysztof Wodiczko.

Wodiczko is best known for his large-scale and video projections on buildings and monuments. Since the 1980s, he has been transforming the facades of official buildings and historical monuments into temporary spaces for critical reflection and public protest.

Krzysztof Wodiczko covers 40 years of the artist's extensive, and often controversial, body of work using contemporary technologies to form a commentary on politics, ethics, social responsibility and the urban experience. Comprising a collection of writing by some of the most critically acclaimed art historians, cultural theorists and commentators working today, along with both previously published and unpublished texts by Wodiczko himself, this book is the definitive study of the artist's work. Richly illustrated, the book includes a diverse selection of images, ranging from digital montages and preliminary visualisations to sketches and photographs.

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Dis-Armor Project, 1999-2001

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Vehicle (Pojazd), 1971-1973

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Vehicle-Podium, 1977-1979

If there's one artist whose innovative and socially-engaged work never ceases to impress me it's Krzysztof Wodiczko. Not even his 'oldest' pieces have suffered from the passage of time. They are still as relevant as ever, even if the context has changed. His 1969 Personal Instrument, for example, consisted of a microphone, worn on the forehead, which retrieved sound from the environment while photo-receivers in gloves filtered the sound through the movement of the hand: closing the hands suppresses the sound, turning the hands to face the light opens up the sound channel, the photoreceivers on the right hand control the low-pitch filter and the ones on the left hand control the high-pitch. The resulting sound was perceived by the artist only through his headphones. By emphasizing selective listening, vital to a Polish citizen's survival at the time, Wodiczko intimated the prevalence of censored speech, registering "dissent of a system that fostered only one-directional critical thinking - listening over speech." (Source: wikipedia.)

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Personal Instrument, 1969

Wodiczko's projections and instruments reinstate the city as a space for discussion, relentless questioning and debate. Therefore Krzysztof Wodiczko is not only a monograph on the artist's work, it is also a book that offers readers the opportunity to reflect upon the unresolved and under-discussed issues that the artist's projects engages with: post-war trauma, plight of illegal immigrants, exclusion of homeless people from society, industrial pollution, profit-making real-estate redevelopment that forces poor residents to move away, gun violence, etc. It is also one of the rare books i feel like recommending to artists, activists and designers alike.

Presentations of the artist's individual artworks alternate with essays by Professors of Art History, Contemporary Art, of Architectural Theory as well as art critiques and curators that focus on particular aspects of Wodiczko's work and life: the political and artistic context of Poland from the 1950s till the 1980s, New York's urban redevelopment programme which involved raise in property value and displacement of the lower income population, urban guerrilla warfare, issues of identity, etc. Along with the texts by the various contributors, the study contains also excerpts from conversation the artist had with art critiques or homeless people, a selection of his own essays, chapters from exhibition catalogues and other original documents.

I'm sure many of you are familiar with his work but for my own pleasure, here's a couple of works i discovered or re-discovered in the book:

Homeless Vehicle Project provides homeless people with a mobile tool that responds to their basic needs (living, sleeping and washing) but also assists them in their 'daily job' as collectors and resellers of discarded cans and bottles. The vehicle was not designed as a solution to their housing problem, but it rendered visible to passersby the invisible: the hundred of people compelled to 'sleep rough' on the streets of New York City.

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Krzysztof Wodiczko, Homeless Vehicle Project, 1988

While he was in London for a commissioned projection in Trafalgar Square, Wodiczko decided to react to what he was reading in the newspapers: racial violence in South Africa and Thatcher government's refusal to apply economic sanctions against apartheid. Since the South Africa House, was mere steps away from the Nelson Column, the artist projected a Nazi swastika on the facade of the building, establishing an uncomfortable parallel between the racist policies of South Africa and that of Hitler's Germany.

South African officials contacted the police who put a stop to the projection after only two hours.

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Projection on the South Africa House, London, 1985

The projection of a cruise missile on the cliffs above Bow Falls, in Banff National Park in Alberta echoed protests that rose across Canada when it emerged that Alberta had been selected as a location for testing U.S. cruise missiles in the country.

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Bow Falls, Banff, Alberta, 1983

Black Dog Publishing also has an art gallery by King's Cross St Pancras' station. They have recently opened the exhibition Krzysztof Wodiczko: The Abolition of War. It will remain on view at the WORK Gallery in London though 14 January 2012.

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Krzysztof Wodiczko, War Veteran Vehicle, 2009

9rethink2013888-f30.jpgRethinking Curating: Art after New Media, by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook. Foreword by Steve Dietz (available at amazon UK and USA)

Publisher The MIT Press says: As curator Steve Dietz has observed, new media art is like contemporary art--but different. New media art involves interactivity, networks, and computation and is often about process rather than objects. New media artworks, difficult to classify according to the traditional art museum categories determined by medium, geography, and chronology. These works present the curator with novel challenges involving interpretation, exhibition, and dissemination. This book views these challenges as opportunities to rethink curatorial practice. It helps curators of new media art develop a set of flexible tools for working in this fast-moving field, and it offers useful lessons from curators and artists for those working in such other areas of art as distributive and participatory systems.

Rethinking Curating explores the characteristics distinctive to new media art, including its immateriality and its questioning of time and space, and relates them to such contemporary art forms as video art, conceptual art, socially engaged art, and performance art. The authors, both of whom have extensive experience as curators, offer numerous examples of artworks and exhibitions to illustrate how the roles of curators and audiences can be redefined in light of new media art's characteristics. They discuss modes of curating, from the familiar default mode of the museum, through parallels with publishing, broadcasting, festivals, and labs, to more recent hybrid ways of working online and off, including collaboration and social networking. Rethinking Curating offers curators a route through the hype around platforms and autonomous zones by following the lead of current artists' practice.

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Vuk Cosic, Documenta X, part of the exhibition Net-art per me at the Slovenian Pavilion of the Venice Biennial, 2001. Image

In 2000, Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook founded CRUMB, a discussion list that aims to help those who 'exhibit' new media art, whether they are curators, technicians or artists. They also collaborate to international publications, curate exhibitions and organise workshops, masterclasses and conferences for the discussion of new media art curating. I can't think of many people as capable as these two to dispel the myths and prejudices that cloud our vision of new media art and the way it should not only be integrated into a curatorial practice but also question it.

The first half of the book identifies the characteristics inherent to new media art and maps how the practice crosses traditional borders of space, media, time, taxonomy and disciplines and how it is thus related to other art forms or movements more familiar to visitors and directors of contemporary art venues: conceptual art, video art, socially engaged practices, etc. The second half investigates in depth modes and ways of curating new media art both inside and outside institutions.

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Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane, Steam Powered Internet Computer, 2006

As if that were not enough, the authors also have a mission: to convince us that new media art offers the art world the opportunity to completely re-position curatorial practice. New media art comes with challenges, idiosyncrasies, but also with a propensity to collaborate and share, to look for alternative curatorial spaces, to mix disciplines, media and knowledge... Surely, this should provide enough reasons for the contemporary art world to take notice and get inspired.

Although the title clearly positions the book as one that people directly involved in curatorial practice should read, the questions raised in Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media should be relevant to other practices. They range from "What is new media art?" and its side-kick "but is this art?" to "How much technical knowledge does a new media art curator needs?" "Why would new media artists want to show their work in an art museum?" "What can we learn from artist-led and collaborative modes of working?" "Does new media art have to fear institutionalization?" "What happens when there is no curator, when it is the artist or even the audience who curates an exhibition?", etc. The issues investigated by Cook and Graham are so wide-ranging that curators and new media artists of course but also directors of art centers and art critics should find this book stimulating and pertinent to their interests. Otherwise chances are that this call to re-think curating will fall on deaf ears.

I'd like to end this short review of the book by thanking the authors for regularly quoting the wittiest characters of the new media art world: Steve Dietz and Vuk Ćosić. I think it's time we lock these two in a room for 24 hours and document everything that comes out of their brain that day.

Related stories: Book Review - A Brief History of Curating New Media Art: Conversations with Curators and Interview with Sarah Cook.
Book review - Media, New Media, Postmedia.

Image on the homepage: credit: 2010 Ryota Kuwakubo, photo: KIOKU Keizo, photo courtesy: NTT Inter Communication Center (ICC), Found on ars electronica's flickr set.

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